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Reflections on Retirement 

 

"I am a Pastor. I recently retired". Or should that read, "I was a Pastor. I recently retired"? If I have retired, can I still call myself a Pastor? And what is 'retirement' for someone like me anyway? Can a Pastor really retire from what he or she has considered a divine call?  

 

This whole retirement deal is still relatively new for me. I find myself telling people that my wife and I are 'transitioning' into retirement. For some reason, yet to be confronted, I am uncomfortable simply saying that I am now retired. (I wonder why that is?)  

 

In fact, I find myself asking some questions that I had not anticipated when I made the decision to conclude my involvement in full time pastoral ministry. The immediate reason for that decision is related to the fact that I have Parkinson's Disease and I have had to face the fact that I no longer had the physical and emotional energy to give to the role which I loved and in which I had found great fulfillment over the last (almost) 40 years.  

 

As I said, already I am asking some questions that I had not anticipated. There's one question in particular that is hard to articulate. That question may be expressed in a number of ways that sound something like this:

 

a. Over the years that I have been a Pastor, has my personal relationship with God become unhelpfully dependant on that role?

b. Has there developed a kind of unhealthy co-dependency between my role as a Pastor and my life as a disciple? (That the two are related is not being questioned here but the nature of that relationship is under scrutiny).

c. Has my role as a Pastor become enmeshed with my identity as a disciple in such a way that to lose one is to diminish the other?

d. Over the years that I have been a Pastor, have I come to relate to God more as a servant (employee) in His Kingdom than as a son?  

 

I'm still probing the implications of those questions but I suspect the answer in each case is "Yes" - although each 'yes' answer needs some qualification. That answer now sees me facing another question; If I no longer function in the role of Pastor, how do I now function in my identity as a disciple?  

 

You see, there are certain 'structures' that come with being a Pastor. For example, reading the Bible (if only for sermon preparation) is one such structure. But what happens if I am no longer functioning as a Pastor and I no longer need to prepare sermons or Bible studies? Will I still be committed to that structure or discipline? Likewise, will I still pray (assuming that I did when I was functioning as a Pastor!)? Here's another; will I still regularly participate in the worship life and ministry of a local Church?  

 

Let me take the analogy of the 'employer/employee' a little further. I have recently written the following in my journal :  

 

a. I am coming to realize afresh that I all too easily relate to God as my employer rather than as my Father

b. I often see God as the One who has counted me worthy to be employed in His "company" (i.e. the Church or Kingdom) and I need to continually prove myself worthy of His choice.  

 

Of course, there is a measure of truth and validity in the above inasmuch as living a life that is pleasing to God is a good and noble goal. However, living a life that pleases God is one thing. Trying to be worthy and continually seeking to demonstrate or prove our worth to God is another thing altogether.  

 

In the first instance, we live a life that is pleasing to God out of the freedom that we are made worthy by virtue of our relationship with Jesus Christ.   However, in the second instance, we live life out of the bondage that we need to become worthy or more worthy in order to please God and become more acceptable to Him.  

 

Now, it's true that we are urged to live a life worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4/1). But that call is to live such a life because we have been made worthy, not in order to become worthy.  

 

Both lifestyles may look the same or similar in their outworking. The difference is in the motivation.  

 

In the first case, the motivation is energized by the wonderful freedom that we are already made worthy in Christ. There is nothing to prove. We can never be more acceptable than we are right now no matter what else we may or may not say and do in the future. That freedom releases us to live and serve without any sense of duty or obligation.  

 

But in the second case, the motivation is energized by a debilitating sense that we can (must?) still prove our worth and our acceptability if we just try harder, do more and jump higher. This kind of motivation says that it is virtuous to break down, burn out or blow up for Jesus.  

 

To come back to that "company" analogy again, I have found myself wrestling with the question, "Now that I am no longer in full time pastoral ministry, where do I fit in the company now - if at all?  "Why am I so hesitant to make the simple statement that I am retired? Does such a statement conjure up images of the retirement party at the office, the 'gold watch ritual', the speeches and waking up the next morning without an identity or a specific place in the company?  

 

Then, as I wrestled with these issues, something unexpected happened.   I found myself reading again the words of Jesus when He said, "This, then, is how you should pray: Abba." (Matt.6/9). And that is as far as I got. "Abba". I had known for years that this Aramaic word just oozes intimacy and powerfully expresses the relationship between parent & child.  

 

This was one of those moments of revelation in which I saw that this one word was the answer to every question that I had been asking. God is my Father. I am not an employee of the company of which He is the benevolent Managing Director. I am the son of my father. Sonship has nothing to do with personal worth or value. If I never work in the company again, I am still His son - a son and joint heir of that same company (or, in this case, the King and Kingdom).  

 

You see, when I relate to God as my employer, I can't help but attribute to Him the motivation that everything He does in my life is primarily for the good of the company and for my good only insofar as it benefits the company. In that scenario I am valuable only inasmuch as I enhance the effectiveness of the company. When I am no longer making a contribution (like, say, when I retire), then I cease to have any value  

 

I can't prove it but I think that this kind of 'company thinking' filled the heart of the older son in Jesus' parable about the lost son (Luke 15). He certainly seemed to equate his personal worth so far as his father was concerned with what he had done so faithfully and dutifully over the years.   He used terminology revealing that he saw himself more as an employee in the family business than as a son of his father.

 

When he refused to share in the 'welcome home' party, his father went out to him and endeavoured to reassure him of his real status. "My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours." He was a son and a joint heir. Sadly, his thinking was that of an employee and that kind of thinking led to a bitter and twisted view of life and relationships.  

 

I don't know who will read these words. I hope some of my fellow Pastors do. Especially those who are younger and who may find themselves being lured into thinking that they have to prove themselves worthy of the God who has called them.  

 

Here's something else that I am learning; moments of revelation like I have mentioned above don't automatically transform life. The energy to respond that they initially generate will diminish if the truth revealed is not acted upon quickly.

 

The challenge before me now (to be anticipated with joy and freedom) is to spend the rest of my life (be that short or long) re-learning to relate to God as "Abba" - my Father.   I am hoping that this experience will be easier because I will not have the role of being a Pastor potentially sabotaging the journey by confusing my identity as a son of my Heavenly Father with being an employee of the company.    

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